China's Climate Change Policy Process : improved but still weak and fragmented

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)971-986
Journal / PublicationJournal of Contemporary China
Issue number67
Online published20 Oct 2010
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010
Externally publishedYes


China has recently become the world's largest emitter of carbon and is already facing many harmful effects domestically from climate change. Chinese leaders have therefore made a high-level commitment to curb emissions, as evident in the 2007 National Climate Change Program. However, the government has missed many of its targets, in particular its goal of reducing energy intensity. This essay argues that China is missing its targets because of a number of factors which stem from the fragmented nature of China's authoritarian system. First, environmental policies are too broad and complicated, making it difficult for regulators to enforce the laws. Second, the current incentive structures of promotion and salary cause local officials to give higher priority to economic development than to environmental issues. Third, environmental regulators, such as the judiciary and environmental agencies, remain weak and impeded by enforcement obstacles. While positive changes have occurred, such as the emergence of NGOs and the media as environmental watchdogs and a burgeoning clean technology sector, much remains to be done to improve the long-term viability of climate change policies in China. Based on the preceding analysis, this essay recommends ways by which the government could improve the process of enacting and implementing climate change policies. It also urges the international community to sympathize with the Chinese government and, by leading the way, help the government gain greater compliance with climate change policies.